Auctions of Cars, Watches and Furniture Heat Up

Rich people who shopped too much used to be called collectors. Now they — and those belonging merely to the aspirational class — are all investors.

It’s not just that they’ve spent the last year splurging on stakes in untested, newly formed public companies that have yet to produce products, much less profits. It’s that during the pandemic, seemingly every luxury acquisition has become a so-called alternative asset class.

Rather than elbowing past each other for reservations at the latest restaurants from Marcus Samuelsson and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, or getting into bidding wars for apartments at 740 Park Avenue, they are one-upping each other in online auctions for jewelry, watches, furniture, sports cards, vintage cars, limited-edition Nikes and crypto art.

growing wealth inequality.

sold on the secondary market in 2020 for $30,000 are now going for upward of $50,000 on some resale sites. The Nautilus 5980, a rose gold chronograph sports watch from Patek Philippe that has a retail price of $85,000, can seldom be found on 47th Street for much less than $200,000.

One reason for surging prices, according to Benjamin Clymer, the editor of the watch site Hodinkee, is that “Switzerland shut down, so demand was there while the supply was dramatically reduced.”

had sold shortly before the pandemic through the auction site Bring a Trailer (or BaT, as it’s known) for $560,000 but Mr. Clymer figured it might be a buyer’s market. Perhaps he could get it for less.

He found a beauty from a dealership that hadn’t listed the price on its website. It was in mint condition. Mr. Clymer asked for a quote and nearly fainted upon hearing the answer: $1.2 million.

“I said, ‘You’re crazy.’ Less than a month later it was sold.”

By Thanksgiving, auction houses were sending out news releases almost daily touting their record-breaking sales.

sold in October 2020 for $23,750 through the Chicago auction house Wright. A Mesa coffee table by T.H. Robsjohn Gibbings, a British architect whose name is barely known outside of the furniture world, brought in $237,500 in December; the overall result of the sale was $2.5 million, roughly double what the house did at the same sale a year before.

In February, a digital artwork of Donald Trump facedown in the grass, covered in words like “loser,” sold for $6.6 million, a record for a nonfungible token, or NFT, so called because there’s no physical piece for the buyer to take possession of.

Fittingly, the image was paid for in Ethereum, a form of cryptocurrency that, among millennials, is almost as well known as bitcoin. Two weeks later, Christie’s sold another NFT by Beeple, this time for $69 million.

sold through PWCC Marketplace for $5.2 million. In March, Goldin Auctions, a sports collectible site, held its annual winter auction. “We grossed $45 million,” said Ken Goldin, the founder and C.E.O. “Last year, it was $4.7 million.”

One of Mr. Goldin’s repeat customers is Clement Kwan, the former president of Yoox Net-a-Porter and a founder of Beboe, an upscale line of cannabis vaporizers and edible pastilles that The New York Times has called “the Hermès of Marijuana.”

along with her sisters Dakota and Dresden Peters, owns what some believe is the most valuable sneaker collection in the world — had her biggest sale in five years of being in business: a pair of autographed 1985 Air Jordans that fetched $275,000.

In 2019, the sisters sold 572 pairs of sneakers, at prices that began at $500, Ariana Peters said in an interview. In 2020, they sold 879.

Ms. Peters actually sounded somewhat surprised talking about all this, perhaps because she and her sisters only got into the business because their father, a retired real estate developer named Douglas Roy Peters, bought so many pairs of sneakers they were running out of places to put them.

sold one for $408,000.

Mr. Abouzeid doesn’t have that kind of money, but in a June 2020 “I.P.O.” from Valley Road, he purchased 125 “shares” of one at a price of $25 each.

vintage whiskey. But Johnson & Johnson and Jack Daniel’s don’t interest him.

His Merrill Lynch account contains shares of companies like Sarepta Therapeutics, a maker of precision genetic medicines that treat rare neuromuscular and central nervous system diseases. His fridge is filled with rare, vintage Kacho Fugetsu.

“When my parents saw them in my apartment, they got really worried,” he said. “They said, ‘Is there something we need to talk about?’ But I don’t even open them.”

Earlier this month, when rising interest rates sent high-flying tech stocks into a tailspin, Kacho Fugetsu provided what Mr. Moses called “the perfect hedge.”

Of course, he’s aware that the ascent of his whiskey collection also could come to an end, but that at least has an upside. “Then I’ll finally have an excuse to drink it,” he said.


A Postwar Mercedes, Still Overshadowed by Its Racing Cousins

After World War II, Mercedes-Benz wanted to re-establish its position in the automotive hierarchy, to create a car that, in the words of the board chairman at the time, Wilhelm Haspel, “gold-plates the name Mercedes-Benz again.”

The brand’s place in the German market had been devastated by a long pause in vehicle development while it produced munitions for the Nazis, and by Allied bombing of its factories. Its place in the European market had been corroded by this wartime collusion, including its widespread use of conscripted labor from concentration camps. And it barely had a presence in North America.

It persevered through the late 1940s, like many global automakers, with slightly updated versions of prewar designs, in its case the 170, a rather unremarkable coupe with a small four-cylinder engine.

“This was a very basic model, the 170,” said Michael Kunz, the director of the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, Calif., a company subsidiary dedicated to the history, preservation and restoration of the brand’s vintage products, which date back to 1886. “Historically, we are not known as a basic-car company, so it was important to show a resurrection as a leading producer of luxury goods and highly engineered vehicles.”

Mercedes 300 sedan and convertible. Revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in the spring of 1951, the 300 sported a stately design, with a prominent chrome grille, a long formal hood, bulbous fenders that flowed into and out of the front and rear doors, a capacious cabin lined in quality materials, and a tapered rear. It was the largest and fastest production car in West Germany, known in Mercedes’s parlance as a “Representative Class” vehicle.

“These were typically cars that were driven and owned by captains of industry and heads of state,” Mr. Kunz said. “Absolutely the best of the best.”

Brian Rabold, vice president for valuation services at the classic vehicle insurer Hagerty, concurs. “These would have been comparable to a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud or Bentley R-Type,” he said.

They could be had with radio telephones, dictation machines, writing desks, intercoms, partitions between driver and passengers, and custom trim finishes. “If the party ordering it wanted it, the factory would make every attempt to accommodate it,” Mr. Kunz said.

The pope was chauffeured in a specially constructed Landaulet version, with a retractable top over just the rear compartment — a space that contained a single thronelike seat.

300b of 1954 upped power to 125 horses. The 300c of 1955 offered the brand’s first automatic transmission, a must for introduction into the American marketplace.

And the 300d of 1957 added a more modern and rectilinear body that incorporated a nine-inch stretch, nearly half of which went to the rear passenger compartment. It also shed the side window pillars. This gave the car a grand and airy profile, enhanced by its new fuel-injected engine, which produced 160 horsepower.

“From a power perspective, they’re not sports cars,” Mr. Kunz said of the Adenauers, which weighed over two tons. He characterized them instead as ideal autobahn cruisers. “It takes a while to get there, but you can go 90 miles per hour no problem,” he said.

This is in part because the car’s engine, and other drivetrain bits, was shared with another stellar postwar Benz. “They provided much of the technology that was used to produce the 300 SL,” Mr. Kunz said, referring to the remarkably advanced Mercedes Gullwing racecar and coupe of the mid-1950s.

The fact that Adenauers are not sports cars has helped keep their values approachable. “They violate a couple core collector car principles,” Mr. Rabold said. “They have four doors, instead of two. And they’re more grand touring, rather than sporting.”

He continued: “I think that it comes down to an emphasis on craftsmanship instead of showmanship. They’re very refined cars, but they’re subtle in their refinement.”

Thus, according to Hagerty, while “average” Gullwings are $900,000 cars, and top-notch ones can fetch $1.2 million, average Adenauers run around $42,000, and perfect ones can be had for under $100,000.

Also contributing to the 300’s limited collectability is the cost of maintaining and repairing one.

“With these cars, there’s more of everything,” Mr. Kunz said. “A lot of chrome, a tremendous amount of leather, complicated and very beautifully done wood on the interiors. If you have a convertible, the padded roof, a very large roof, there are issues with that.”

He went on: “And they have a very complicated body structure with very tight tolerances. When I show the car to someone, I always say look at the transition from front fender to the front door, and look at what the gaps are. The gaps are like two or three millimeters. It’s challenging to get that right.”

The current retail values of these cars thus don’t support the expense of high-end restorations, which can run well into six figures.

“There was one sedan we did where the customer brought it to us in very poor shape,” Mr. Kunz said. “He said, ‘I know I should have my head examined for restoring this,’ but he had owned the car for many years, and that was the emotional bond. He saw himself as steward of the car, and felt it was his responsibility to do it.”

That value proposition might be shifting. “We show that values on these have gone up around 25 percent over the past two years,” Mr. Rabold said.

This has been pushed in part by increased interest from an atypical audience. To measure interest and appeal, Hagerty tracks insurance quote requests on specific vehicles, with the idea that if someone is seeking coverage for a particular car, that person is either preparing to buy one or has just bought it.

“In 2018, Gen Xers accounted for only 12 percent of quotes on Adenauer Mercedes,” Mr. Rabold said. “But in 2020, that was 32 percent. So that shows that there’s some youth appeal, and I think that’s what’s contributing in part to values going up, as they start to be discovered a little more.”

If you’ve been in the market, it’s a good time to buy, especially if you find a car that someone else has paid to bring back to life.

“These are a really great combination of luxury and engineering. They’re overbuilt. They’re really quality cars,” Mr. Rabold said. “If you can find a restored one of these, it’s a great value.”


A Legendary Designer Strikes Out on His Own to Redesign Legends

Ian Callum, the noted automotive designer, has started a new company, simply named Callum Design. It could just as easily be called Unfinished Business.

Mr. Callum believes there is still mileage left, so to speak, in some notable car designs, and his shop intends to bring certain models of yesteryear forward and show how they retain their vitality in the modern world.

“We are in the business of reimagining,” said Mr. Callum, 66, who has been working out of his design shop in Warwick, England, since retiring in 2019 after two decades as Jaguar Land Rover’s top designer. To date, he and his team of stylists, engineers and fabricators have “reimagined” the Aston Martin Vanquish and the Jaguar Mark 2; most recently they’ve announced a second-generation Corvette project.

“Some stories,” he noted with a wink during an online press event, “are better the second time told.”

Bill Mitchell and Harley Earl were more than designs — they were almost the exaggeration of design,” he said, referring to two mid-20th-century General Motors designers. “Expressive, glamorous, the essence of America. Or Hollywood.”

To illustrate his point, he revealed that he had bought a 1956 Chevy from eBay Motors, late one night on an impulse. “I clicked on ‘Buy It Now’ — the seller was in Cleveland,” he said. “He was extremely surprised at who wanted to buy it and where I wanted it shipped. But he agreed.”

Mr. Callum subsequently heaped an enormous amount of love, and subtle design and engineering improvements, upon that cherry-red classic, and perhaps that helped point him toward his newest venture. (His private collection also includes a ’32 Ford and a ’93 Mini.)

Mr. Callum’s first reimagined design involved “bringing forward” his own work on the award-winning Aston Martin DB7 and Vanquish V12 — cars that were in production largely unchanged from the early 1990s to 2018. That’s an eternity in the automotive world.

“The Vanquish was perfect for its time, but it could be better,” he said. “I know, because I designed it.”

So he has tried to visualize how the design and engineering could be advanced, unconstrained by corporate edicts on model life spans and the pence-pinching of an accounting department.

The result is the Vanquish 25, of which — as the number suggests — 25 are being built and made available for sale. The asking price is negotiable, because prospective buyers can suggest bespoke details. Figure the bottom line would be somewhere north of half a million dollars. Despite that, Mr. Callum characterized business as “brisk.”

William Lyons, and asked about a position in the company’s design studio. Incredibly, Lyons wrote him back and advised him to study technical drawing.

So it makes a certain amount of sense — especially given his dream-come-true stint as head of Jaguar design — that Mr. Callum would try his hand at reimagining a more relevant Mark 2 for 2021 and beyond. The Callum Mk 2 is a real head-turner — at first a ringer for the original but, parked next to one, an obvious upgrade, albeit a stunning one.

This is another Callum Design limited offering with what some people might consider a staggering asking price, starting upward of $600,000, plus a donor car.

Yet buyers to date hail from Europe, the Middle East and even the United States, where the reimagined models aren’t technically road-legal.

Mr. Callum’s latest project could be his most ambitious so far: a thoroughly modernized version of the second-generation Chevrolet Corvette, which was in production from 1963 to 1967. He’s working with one of the car’s original designers, Peter Brock, 84, who sketched the original split-window coupe back in 1957.

The project is calling the vehicle Ava, which stands for the Latin phrase ad vitam aeternam, meaning “to eternal life.”

Ava will offer “hypermodern performance enveloped in the body and soul of a classic,” Mr. Callum said.

“It is a hugely exciting undertaking,” he said in unveiling the first design renderings. “We want to write a new chapter in this car’s story, using Peter’s original concept and vision, with Callum Design’s expertise in creation and engineering.”

Ava, which is to be built in Ireland, will be electrically powered, capable of producing 1,200 to 2,000 horsepower. The asking price, still being worked out, could reach $2.4 million.

Mr. Callum is coy about what else might be on his future projects list, but it would not be surprising to see something related to the 1965 Buick Riviera. “That car is still spellbinding to look at,” he said. “It is my personal favorite; it will never get old.”